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We talk to Sally Rhodes, managing director, UK nations and regions at PR agency Trimedia

Sally Rhodes, managing director, UK nations and regions at PR agency Trimedia discusses how to succeed at juggling in all economic climates.

When asked about how the present economy is affecting her role, Rhodes says; “The challenges are probably the same as they always have been: keeping all the balls in the air – it's just the balls that change and the speed with which they move.” Rhodes adds that today’s climate is adding pressure to deliver “superlative” results for clients, plus there is the additional pressure of winning new business and managing costs to maintain profitability. She says: “None of this is new – it is just a case of degree. I think you have to look at the positives of the downturn; it has really made me sit up and think about what it is that sets us apart as a business.”

Young and free

Despite loving working with teams to deliver campaigns, Rhodes finds she has less time for this, which she misses, as she says, “I just love the freshness and enthusiasm of some of the more junior members of the company who often have fantastic ideas. I find that so inspiring, maybe because I'm getting cynical after so long in the business!”

The skills that Rhodes finds she depends upon the most are management and communication skills, as people management comes into every aspect of a job in PR, at whatever level: “It might be managing clients, teams or journalists – it all takes thought, a good dose of instinct and some guidance from others. Most of my skills in this respect have developed on the job, observing and recognising good and bad management by others, but also by reading books and articles and attending the odd course or two.

The three Rs

“It goes without saying that good communications skills, both written and oral, are at the heart of being a good PR practitioner. The grounding in these skills should take place at school.” Rhodes, herself, further developed communications skills at university, gaining an honours degree in English from Leeds University before doing a post-grad course at Oxford University. Rhodes’ first job was as a secondary school English teacher and it was here that she tightened up her knowledge of grammar, spelling and punctuation even further. She adds, “ It also taught me quite a bit about presenting to large, sometimes hostile audiences.” Accuracy in writing is important to Rhodes, and she believes that at school children are not really taught these aspects of the language comprehensively. She says, “I feel very strongly that schools are failing to educate children to a high enough standard in terms of these fundamental skills.

“I have to say that I am often appalled at the poor quality of writing that I see – particularly in job applications from graduates. To make the point about how sloppy standards of written communication can adversely affect business, I'll summarise a recent email exchange between myself and a recruitment consultant who was trying to get business from me. I managed to forgive the fact that she addressed me as 'Sarah', but thought I should point out her error, and told her that my name is Sally, to which she replied 'Refuse apologies, of cause it is'. Needless to say, no recruitment business has been given to her company.”

Be careful who you trust

One piece of advice that Rhodes herself has been given is to never trust a journalist, which probably many PR professionals can understand, and she was also advised early on in her career that is crucial to develop strong relationships to be successful in PR. She adds: “I have found this to be invaluable advice. Not, as some might think, because of the old adage 'It's not what you know, it's who you know', but because if you develop good relationships, whether with colleagues, clients, or journalists, you engender trust and once there is trust, a world of possibilities opens up. I would just add that strong relationships can only be built on honesty and this is where perhaps some people in PR fall down, as they think they can only succeed by distorting the truth and spinning the message.”

Don’t get carried away

Learning from mistakes is always powerful, and Rhodes discusses how one mistake taught her to be careful at all times. This was when she was running the press office for a Jose Carreras concert at Castle Howard. “It had all gone brilliantly, and we had generated loads of coverage pre-event, which had led to the concert being sold out within hours of the box office opening. The concert was a success, we had entertained clients and I had been invited to the post-concert party in the castle, where Jose Carreras had personally thanked me and given me a kiss!

“Still swooning from the experience the next morning and handling the review calls from the media, I forgot all I had learnt and was enticed into a conversation where I waxed lyrical about the post-event party. When asked what I had to say about the fact that the car parking was so disorganised and the routes out of the concert so limited to the extent that some concert goers had queued for three hours to exit, I replied that it had all cleared by the time I had finished partying in the castle with Carreras! The diary pages had a field day and I came down to earth with a red-faced bump. Luckily, the clients were not worried, as they were busy with the South West media for the concert taking place the next day in Bath.”

As well as making sure to learn from mistakes, and gain excellent writing skills, Rhodes has this advice for those coming into PR now: “It’s not one big party, be prepared to work hard and don't underestimate the power of experience. Starting at the bottom and working up, will mean that when you do make it to the top, you'll be far better equipped to provide effective high-level counsel and deal confidently with any situation you face.”

Career history

2008 - Trimedia managing director, UK nations and regions

2005 - Board director of Harrison Cowley, with responsibility for the north and client services. Harrison Cowley merged with Trimedia in 2007, Rhodes was appointed to the board of Trimedia as client services director

1986 - PR executive Sinclair Mason, rising through the ranks to become deputy managing director in 1996. Harrison Cowley took over Sinclair Mason in 2005.

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